BESPOC

A Brief Presentation of Its Modules

Introduction

Participatory science, a dynamic intersection of public participation and genuine scientific research, has rapidly gained traction globally. Recognising the potential of this synergy, the European Union has been actively promoting public engagement for research organisations and citizen science initiatives, integrating them into broader scientific and policy frameworks. Yet, while some regions have made more progress in embedding these practices within their academic and community ecosystems, others are still navigating the nascent challenges and opportunities presented by public engagement in research and citizen science. The BESPOC Model (Broad Engagement in Science, Point of Contact) is designed to help research organisations build an institutional service for broad engagement between science and society, including participatory (citizen) science. It is based on the BESCPOC Prototype, which follows a LERU recommendation from 2016 to create single points of contact for citizen science at universities.

Terminology: In this text, we use Citizen Science (CS), citizen science, and participatory science to represent the same concept: engaging with non-scientists in research activities. Furthermore, this text and the BESPOC Model refer to public engagement in research activities. Therefore, “public engagement” should be read as “public engagement relating to research activities.” 

Acknowledging the difference: In this text, we acknowledge the difference between public engagement activities related to education (a well-established practice at most universities) and public engagement activities related to research (a practice that we believe should be developed more in-depth and at a greater scale).

The potential of public engagement and citizen science (CS) to contribute to solving Open Science (OS) challenges—making research open, shareable, and usable for societal benefit—is yet underutilised. Some universities have championed open science (often through their academic libraries). At the institutional level, while they have made strides in OS, the same cannot be fully said for public engagement in research or for CS. The bridge connecting citizen science (sometimes called participatory research) to the open science practice is still under construction, with one missing element being the lack of a coordinated support service at the university level. 

The benefits of implementing BESPOC at research organisations and higher education institutions (HEIs) are manifold. Firstly, they have the potential to create a central interface, streamlining communication and information dissemination related to public engagement and participatory / citizen science (CS) initiatives. This harmonisation will facilitate easier collaboration between researchers, the public, and institutions, breaking down barriers and enhancing efficiency. Additionally, with the BESPOC framework in place, HEIs could aim to better integrate citizen science with other open science activities, thereby promoting a more inclusive and accessible scientific process. By ensuring that citizen science projects are well-managed and transparent, the BESPOC will foster trust and encourage more active participation from institutional-based and outside communities. Furthermore, its implementation is set to augment the capacity of these institutions to attract, manage, evaluate, and optimise CS projects, ensuring they align with academic rigour and public interests. Lastly, by offering a unified platform and resources, such BESPOC implementations could position the HEIs as societal leaders, driving towards stronger knowledge-based societies. At the same time, it will enable HEIs to extend (and blend) formal to informal education, thus producing an array of benefits, not least fulfilling one of their social responsibility, fighting against misinformation, disinformation and manipulation.

Executive summary

BESPOC is a model for services designed for universities and research organisations to offer coordinated support and enhance their public engagement and citizen science initiatives. 

Developed by SKS Knowledge Services (Germany), it aligns with the League of European Research Universities (LERU) recommendations for supporting citizen science.

Video link: Introducing BESPOC: https://vimeo.com/478021537

The BESPOC Model has 9 modules and offers the blueprint for structured, institutional support for all research organisations and researchers interested in increasing their engagement with society, including through citizen science. It emphasises the importance of policy development, community engagement, legal compliance, and effective management of citizen science projects. This model could also serve as a guideline for research organisations to foster on their own terms more inclusive, collaborative, and impactful research actions.

Modules of BESPOC

  1. Policy & Development Plans (P&D-CS)
    1. Focuses on developing and updating policies for citizen science.
    2. Aims to institutionalise citizen science in academic settings.
    3. Ensures effective communication and engagement of policies.
  2. Activities Portal (AP)
    1. Serves as a central hub for citizen science projects.
    2. Transforms policies into actionable projects and campaigns.
    3. Supports project engagement, dissemination, and collaboration.
  3. Partnership Frameworks (PFs)
    1. Establishes collaborative relationships with various stakeholders.
    2. Outlines structure, roles, responsibilities, and objectives of partnerships.
    3. Enhances the impact of citizen science in academia and society.
  4. Templates for Citizen Science Projects (TCSP)
    1. Provides resources for initiating and executing citizen science projects.
    2. Includes consent forms, data collection sheets, and safety protocols.
    3. Aids in ethical compliance and effective communication.
  5. Specific Citizen Science Communication (SCSC)
    1. Addresses unique challenges in communicating research to non-professionals.
    2. Promotes accessibility, engagement, and two-way communication.
    3. Fosters transparency and open science principles.
  6. Research Management & Administration Connector (RMA-C)
    1. Integrates citizen science with existing research management systems.
    2. Facilitates efficient workflows and policy integration.
    3. Enhances support for citizen science projects within the university.
  7. Gateway to Society (GtS)
    1. Empower citizens to participate in shaping research priorities.
    2. Ensures research findings are used in policymaking.
    3. Strengthens connections between research and decision-making processes.
  8. Legal & Safety Office Connector (LS-C)
    1. Ensures legal and safety compliance in citizen science projects.
    2. Facilitates understanding and responses to legal and safety matters.
    3. Safeguards participants, researchers, and institutional interests.
  9. Communities Builder (CB)
    1. Cultivates sustainable communities around citizen science projects.
    2. Supports Community of Interest, Knowledge, and Practice.
    3. Encourages personal and collective growth within these communities.

BESPOC Development Road Map and SKS Knowledge Services

While the BESPOC Prototype has been published as open access and it’s free to use, the BESPOC Model is currently offered as a consultancy service, providing guidance and support for establishing a citizen science point of contact. 

Thus, the BESPOC Model is a building block for universities and research organisations that 1) aim to create central services for citizen science to benefit their researchers and 2) wish to adopt a strategy for broader public engagement. It underscores the importance of cross-departmental collaboration, staff and infrastructure support, and community engagement in research.

We envision nurturing the development of the BESPOC Model into an open-source platform (the BESPOC Platform) that supports individual implementations and a growing network of practitioners and participating institutions. Furthermore, we envision an inclusive governance for the BESPOC platform. 

SKS Knowledge Services will continue to offer implementation consultancy, cross-system integrations, customer support, template development, and training without locking its institutional customers into a proprietary environment. 

MODULE: Policy and Development Plans for Citizen Science (P&D-CS)

Module Overview

The Policy and Development Plans for Citizen Science (P&D-CS) module is part of the BESPOC Model, aimed at developing a structured approach to citizen science within universities and research organisations. This module focuses on establishing high-level support, managing, and periodically updating policies and strategies for implementing public engagement programmes and citizen science. This module aims to streamline developing, maintaining, and updating public engagement and citizen science policies and implementation plans within universities and research organisations. Implementing the “Policy and Development Plans for Citizen Science” module within BESPOC is a step towards institutionalising the approach of public engagement in research and the practice of citizen (or participatory) science. 

P&D-CS provides institutions with a comprehensive toolkit to navigate the complexities of formulating and maintaining effective policies. It extends beyond policy creation to ensure these strategies are successfully communicated and implemented, involving a diverse group of stakeholders, including academic researchers and citizen scientists, to promote a collaborative and transparent atmosphere.

 

Objective and Benefits

The implementation of the P&D-CS module enables organisations to

  • Streamline and simplify the development and ongoing improvement of citizen science policies.
  • Enhance cooperation and openness among diverse stakeholders.
  • Build a solid foundation for public engagement and citizen science initiatives within the organisation.

 

Core Functions

The module takes a holistic approach to policy development in public engagement and citizen science.

  • It offers guidance for establishing and updating comprehensive citizen science policies.
  • Guide for implementing public engagement and citizen science activities.
  • It encourages active participation and teamwork among all involved parties, ensuring a unified approach to public engagement and citizen science projects.

 

Implementation Process

Adopting the P&D-CS module involves essential steps, starting with discussions among various levels of the organisation, from individual researchers to university executives. It requires identifying the main stakeholders, assessing the organisation’s support for citizen science, and using the module’s tools and resources to formulate effective policies. Additionally, it includes creating new procedures for approving policy development, devising implementation plans, and initiating support for public engagement and citizen science as determined by the organisation.

MODULE: ACTIVITIES PORTAL (AP)

Module Overview

The Activities Portal (AP) module is a core component of the BESPOC Model, acting as a dynamic platform for bringing to life public engagement and citizen science activities and initiatives (both are important!). AP serves as the operational core of BESPOC, focusing on project engagement, dissemination, and collaboration. Its primary goal is to ensure that all public engagement and citizen science activities are transparent, organised, and aligned with the organisation’s broader objectives. The portal should enhance visibility for various stakeholders, including researchers, university members, and the public, fostering a more engaged and informed community.

Development Options

Institutions must have the flexibility to either develop the Activities Portal in-house or adapt existing platforms. Established platforms like SciStarter, Zooniverse, or Vera offer ready-to-use infrastructures, which can benefit their established networks and user-friendly interfaces. However, leveraging these platforms or creating a bespoke portal should be based on each institution’s unique requirements. The choice between building an in-house portal or adopting an existing platform has its own set of pros and cons.

The BESPOC Model acknowledges each institution’s autonomy in choosing how to implement this module. While our team can present options and share experiences from other institutions, the final decision on developing or integrating the Activities Portal rests with the individual organisation. Whether built from scratch or adapted from existing solutions, this module requires engagement with IT teams and a clear understanding of the digital requirements.

Key Features of the Activities Portal

BESPOC’s AP should be more than just a catalogue of projects, which could still be a good starting point. It should evolve into a comprehensive dashboard offering tools for project management, reporting, and analytics. It should enable research teams and departments to upload and manage their projects, creating distinct profiles for researchers, project managers and research managers and administrators (RMAs), offering various tools to follow public engagement and citizen science activities or to get involved in projects and initiatives. Additionally, it should include resources and training materials to upskill for advanced usage and further development.

A Glance into Activities’ Dashboard

The Activities Dashboard is the central hub, giving users a comprehensive view of activities, status, and updates while providing powerful search and filtering capabilities. This portal could be set to host project proposals generated at the level of different departments and – ideally – should be integrated into your institution’s CRIS (or RIM) system.

  • Project listing – the portal should provide a comprehensive list of ongoing and upcoming public engagement and citizen science projects. Each listing should include project details such as the Project name, URL, contact details, research topic, public engagement objectives, scientific objectives, educational objectives, methods, expected outcomes, and the level of engagement required from volunteers or participants.
  • Status indicators – display ongoing, completed, and upcoming public engagement and citizen science activities, advocacy campaigns, and events with visual cues indicating their progress or status. Displaying the achieved milestones and those ahead is highle recommended.
  • Call for action – right from this Dashboard, the project’s calls for action, such as recruitment, research tasks, education opportunities, events, public consultation, dissemination, etc., should be visible to researchers, participants, or any other stakeholders.

MODULE: PARTNERSHIP FRAMEWORKS (PFs)

Module Overview

The Partnership Frameworks (PFs) module is a key element of the BESPOC Model. It focuses on building and maintaining collaborative relationships essential for the success of public engagement and citizen science initiatives. This module lays the groundwork for structuring partnerships by clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and shared objectives, ensuring a unified and effective approach to citizen science projects.

PFs are designed to encourage cooperation, create common knowledge, foster shared goals, and align all stakeholders’ efforts towards impactful citizen science activities that benefit both the scientific community and society. This approach emphasises the interconnected nature of public engagement in science, recognising the varied contributions of different organisations, from academic departments to community organisations, NGOs, companies and other industry partners, governmental agencies, and self-formed citizen science communities.

 

Collaboration Scope

The PF module recognises the importance of diverse partnerships, which can include:

  • Internal collaboration with university departments and centres of excellence.
  • External ties with community organisations, NGOs, and regional groups.
  • Industry partnerships for practical application and innovation.
  • Governmental and public institution collaborations for policy alignment and resource optimisation.
  • Engagement with self-formed citizen science communities and volunteers.
  • Relationships with funding agencies and grant providers.

We developed MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) templates for several partnership frameworks. On request, we could design more templates as step-by-step digital forms or digital checklists to guide the creation of sealed MoUs.

 

Framework development and adaptation

Approaching and building partnership frameworks is a multi-year effort tailored to each partner’s specificities. The PF module provides initial guidance and templates, but institutions are encouraged to adapt these to their unique contexts. Rather than creating frameworks from scratch, leveraging pre-existing templates can facilitate a quicker and more robust start to partnerships.

Having template frameworks at hand streamlines the process, allowing the research institutions to focus on what partnerships benefit them and identify the prospective partners. These templates offer a starting point that can be customised to meet each partnership’s specific needs and objectives. This approach accelerates the formation of these frameworks and ensures a more cohesive and effective collaboration.

A mature BESPOC service will contribute to the continuous evaluation of how these partnerships are implemented and the mutual benefit of the involved organisations.

MODULE: Templates for Citizen Science Projects (TCSP)

Module Overview

The Templates for Citizen Science Projects (TCSP) module within the BESPOC framework is a resource hub designed to speed up and refine the initiation and execution of public engagement actions and participatory science projects. This module is continually tailored to meet the diverse requirements of institutions, researchers and volunteers, ensuring smooth integration of public participation in scientific research.

TCSP stands out as a repository of considerate and meticulously crafted templates, addressing different stages and aspects of citizen science projects. These resources range from initial data collection to ethical compliance and effective communication, offering a robust starting point for project development.

 

Key Resources

Included within the TCSP module are essential resources such as:

  • Consent form templates for informed participation.
  • Volunteer registration forms for efficient information collection.
  • Data collection sheets and project evaluation surveys for ethical data management and continuous project enhancement.
  • Emergency situation and safety protocol templates, emphasising participant safety and project integrity.
  • Press release templates and social media guides for project promotion and public engagement.
  • Environmental impact assessments and project timeline templates reflecting a comprehensive approach to scientific projects.
  • …and many more

 

Template Management

While TCSP provides a solid foundation, it’s important to recognise that these templates may not cover all unique project needs. They are designed to give researchers a jump start, with the flexibility to modify and tailor these documents to specific project requirements.

The module encourages continuous development and updating of templates, suggesting that each template should be version-controlled and dated to track the latest updates. This systematic approach ensures relevance and effectiveness, two important building blocks of any knowledge repository. 

 

Collaborative Expansion

TCSP promotes collaborative growth through sharing and exchanging templates among institutions implementing the BESPOC model. The practice of sharing TCSPs could be at the heart of a future International BESPOC Network of Implementers. This collaborative effort fosters an ever-expanding collection of resources, thus supporting the emergence of best practices through shared knowledge.

 

Why does TCSP matter?

Imagine launching a project without a volunteer consent form or needing to develop data collection sheets from scratch. TCSP offers ready-made templates for such scenarios, covering needs like field guides, emergency protocols, safety advisories, and data protection policies. These templates serve as a springboard, allowing researchers to focus on customisation rather than initial development.

MODULE: Specific Citizen Science Communication (SCSC)

Module Overview

The Specific Citizen Science Communication (SCSC) module within the BESPOC framework addresses the unique challenges and opportunities in communicating research for the purpose of public engagement. It has the potential to have a particular impact on disseminating research results, increase the adoption of research conclusions, attract support from the public and increase scientific literacy. This module is essential for effectively engaging non-professional scientists, ensuring inclusivity and comprehension across diverse demographics.

SCSC focuses on adapting research communication to actively involve volunteers in the scientific process, thus building more trust in science. The module emphasises the need for accessible, engaging, and co-designed communication strategies, ensuring that every participant, regardless of their background, feels included and valued in the research journey.

 

Core Principles

  • Simplify language to be easily understandable, minimising technical terms.
  • Design materials to captivate a wide audience, including all age groups and backgrounds.
  • Collaborate with the public to create communication materials that reflect diverse perspectives.
  • Establish a dialogue between researchers and the public, valuing the insights and feedback from non-professional scientists.
  • Share research methodologies and data clearly and openly.
  • Employ infographics, charts, and images to simplify complex concepts.
  • Highlight the societal impact of research and the contributions of citizen scientists.
  • Utilise various digital and traditional media platforms to reach different audience segments.
  • Respect participant privacy and obtain consent for media or personal information usage.
  • Recognise and incentivise public contributions in scientific communications.
  • Beyond communication, keep participants informed about research progress and findings.
  • Provide specific directions for ongoing participation and involvement.
  • Ensure research findings and data are publicly accessible, promoting transparency.

 

Practical Application

Effective communication in citizen science is not just about conveying information; it’s about creating a two-way exchange where citizens’ voices are heard and their contributions are valued. Researchers must be mindful of their audience’s varying levels of scientific understanding, using appropriate channels and methods to ensure their message is received and understood. This includes being present in different communication channels, acknowledging their existence, and understanding their impact on community formation and information dissemination.

Additionally, the SCSC module stresses the importance of clearer calls to action in research communications, guiding citizens on how to participate and contribute further. It recognises the role of communication in addressing sensitive topics and managing potential misinformation.

MODULE: Connector with the Office of Research Management and Administration (RMA-C)

Module Overview

The Research Management and Administration Connector module (RMA-C) within the BESPOC framework is designed to establish a streamlined and effective liaison with the Research Management and Administration Office (RMAO). Its primary objective is to integrate public engagement and citizen science projects more efficiently into the university’s broader research management system, emphasising efficient workflows and mindful resource use.

RMA-C operates as a specialised extension of the RMAO, tailored specifically for the needs of participatory projects. It serves as a strategic link, ensuring these projects benefit from the RMAO’s expertise in grant proposals, project administration, and compliance without overwhelming the office with additional bureaucracy. It is not necessarily “hosted” by the RMAO. I can be outsourced to departments that host other BESPOC modules.

This module aims to bridge the gap between citizen science project initiatives and standard research management practices, fostering a development that enhances the effectiveness and compliance of these projects.

 

Key Functions

  • Streamlined Communication
  • Grant Assistance (Pre- and Post- Grant)
  • Project Management
  • Ethics and Compliance
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Advisory Role
  • Capacity Building

 

Operational Approach

RMA-C focuses on collaboration rather than hierarchy. The idea is to create a partnership where knowledge and skills are exchanged. The RMAO learns about the nuances of public engagement in research and participatory science from the BESPOC team, who, in turn, gain insights into effective research management and administration. This mutual learning process is crucial for smoothly operating citizen science projects within the university structure.

Connecting public engagement and citizen science initiatives with the RMAO through RMA-C ensures that these projects are well-supported in terms of administration, funding, and compliance. This connection also facilitates the development of robust, ethically sound, and efficiently managed citizen science projects.

MODULE: Gateway to Society (GtS)

Module Overview

The Gateway to Society (GtS) module is a strategic component of the BESPOC service set to contribute to making research a more popular culture. It is designed to enhance public engagement in research and strengthen the connection between scientific research and societal decision-making. This module aims to empower citizens to shape research priorities and ensure that research findings effectively influence policymaking.

GtS is focused on organising meetings events, and building educational materials to promote interactions between researchers, the public, and policymakers. This module is envisioned as a catalyst for modernising research cultures and fostering a more inclusive, evidence-based approach to societal development and public governance.

 

Core Objectives

  • Facilitate public involvement in setting research priorities balancing societal needs with the importance of fundamental research.
  • Address societal needs through applied research topics while maintaining a commitment to fundamental research.
  • Develop mechanisms to track and understand the cumulative impact of various research projects on society.
  • Involve the public in the early stages of policy brief development, ensuring research evidence informs policymaking.
  • Increase public understanding of how research is conducted, the role of evidence and peer review, and the nuances of scientific inquiry.

 

Operational Approach

Implementing GtS involves a delicate balance. While giving society a voice in research prioritisation is beneficial, educating the public about the research process is equally important. This module should not be seen as relinquishing control over research agendas but rather as opening doors for mutual learning between researchers and society. By integrating societal input, the module aims to align research more closely with public needs and interests.

The module should address the potential risk of societal input skewing research towards short-term, applied science topics. To mitigate this, GtS should create participatory methods that allow a balanced approach to research prioritisation, where society feels invited to contribute, taking into account the difference between applied and fundamental research.

MODULE: Legal Office and Safety Office Connector (LS-C)

Module Overview

The Legal Office and Safety Office Connector (LS-C) module within the BESPOC framework is designed to establish a structured and effective relationship with the university’s Legal and Safety Offices. This module ensures that all aspects of citizen science projects are legally sound, ethically compliant, and adhere to safety standards.

LS-C acts as a bridge, facilitating understanding and providing timely responses to legal and safety concerns that may arise during the design, research, and dissemination phases of public engagement and citizen science projects. By supporting this connector, the BESPOC service ensures responsible and impactful research while protecting the interests of all parties involved.

 

Key Functions

  • Facilitate regular consultations with the Legal Office to address issues like data privacy compliance, intellectual property rights, and ethical reviews of engagement protocols.
  • Work closely with the Safety Office to ensure proper risk assessments, incident reporting procedures, and compliance with public health and environmental standards.
  • Guide ethical management practices, particularly in sensitive areas such as biomedical research, ensuring equitable and legally compliant participatory science projects.
  • Evaluate and establish clear liability guidelines in collaboration with the Legal Office, particularly for fieldwork and direct interactions with the public.
  • Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for regular engagement with the Legal and Safety Offices, including timely response and compliance monitoring protocols.

 

Operational Approach

Implementing LS-C involves creating standardised procedures for engaging with legal and safety offices. This includes determining response times, resource allocation for project leaders and staff’s education and training, and setting up compliance monitoring systems.

One of the primary challenges is ensuring that legal and safety protocols are theoretically sound and practically applicable. LS-C addresses this by facilitating ongoing communication and feedback between the BESPOC service and the aforementioned offices. This continuous dialogue helps fine-tune policies and procedures to be effective and practicable.

MODULE: Community builder (CB)

Module Overview

The Communities Builder (CB) module is an essential component of the BESPOC framework, focusing on the cultivation and sustainability of communities within citizen science projects and – expanding – to increase public engagement with researchers’ activities. This module recognises that communities formed around these projects have the potential to outlast individual projects and contribute significantly to the broader research and societal landscape.

CB aims to foster robust communities that are engaged not only in a single project but can be instrumental in multiple initiatives. It ensures that nurturing these communities becomes a central outcome for universities and research organisations, independent of specific project timelines.

Research organisations are responsible for guiding the public journey that transforms communities from Communities of Interest to Communities of Knowledge and Communities of Practice. CB should offer the platform to exercise that responsibility.

 

Key Functions

  • Nurture new and existing groups that are based on shared interests, facilitating engagement and discussion on specific topics.
  • Promote knowledge sharing, debate, and learning within communities, advancing from interest to knowledge.
  • Transition communities into practising entities that apply their collective knowledge in practical, research-related activities.
  • Regularly schedule events and webinars to maintain engagement and provide continuous learning opportunities.
  • Offer workshops to enhance the capabilities of community members, making them more effective in their participation.
  • Additionally, implement systems for creating user profiles and facilitating matchmaking based on skills, interests, and availability (where appropriate).

 

Operational Approach

The CB module emphasises early and regular engagement with communities, ensuring they are integrated into the university’s ecosystem well before specific project needs arise. This approach ensures an educated, willing and effective pool of participants for various research projects.

Building and maintaining communities require ongoing effort and resources. The CB module addresses this by advocating for regular interaction with communities, both at university-organised events and community-driven ones.

Disclaimer: 

The images are generated by AI. 

References:

Ignat, T. and Ayris, P., 2020. Built to last! Embedding open science principles and practice into European universities. Insights: the UKSG journal, 33(1), p.9.DOI: https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.501

Siri Brorstad Borlaug, Maria Karaulova, Silje Marie Svartefoss, Gunnar Sivertsen, Ingeborg Meijer, Thed van Leeuwen, Laurens K Hessels, Researchers engaging with society: who does what?, Science and Public Policy, 2024; https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scae006

Wyler, Daniel, Grey, François, & Maes, Katrien. (2016). Citizen Science at Universities: Trends, Guidelines, and Recommendations. League of European Research Universities (LERU).

@KarelLuyben sets up our discussion: Fundamental research driven by curiosity is critical, linking to pragmatic and utility driven research and industry.
Our basis for collaboration:
– Respect
– Trust
– Friendship https://focusopenscience.org/book/20cesaer/ #OSBiz2020 

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